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Thursday, April 12, 2018 12:07 am

County ponies up

Board approves contract with economic development corporation

Building job numbers and attracting new businesses will be the measuring stick for the Land of Lincoln Economic Development Corporation, Sangamon County officials say.

 

The Sangamon County Board this week approved a contract with a fledgling economic development corporation that includes $500,000 in public money for the group tasked with attracting new businesses.

The money for the Land of Lincoln Economic Development Corporation will be provided in quarterly payments, according to the contract approved by the board on Tuesday. The Springfield city council in February approved $250,000 for the corporation, an entity composed of business and civic leaders, but the money has not been released.

The city’s commitment is half what the county had requested when it proposed forming the corporation last fall in the wake of a blistering report from a county-hired consultant who concluded that economic development efforts have lagged due to a piecemeal approach that puts no one agency in charge of attracting business and boosting job numbers. County board chairman Andy Van Meter says he’s confident that the city will come through with money that was included in this year’s municipal budget. “The city has said they’ll contribute a quarter-million dollars, and I believe that they will,” Van Meter said.

Money for the group will come from both the public and private sectors, backers say. The contract approved Tuesday makes the corporation an independent contractor that will establish its own rules for releasing information to the public.

The corporation has established a seven-member steering committee composed of top executives from Horace Mann, Memorial Health System, BUNN and other local businesses, with an additional eight public officials and civic leaders ranging from Mayor Jim Langfelder to Urban League chief executive officer Nina Harris contemplated as members of a planned 15-member board.

Even before finding an executive director, the corporation this month hired Josh Collins, who formerly worked for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce as director of business and community development, as the first employee. Collins is working out of BUNN offices. Van Meter, who is expected to serve on the board of directors, said that someone was needed to handle inquiries and otherwise handle day-to-day affairs for the group.

The job description for an executive director recently posted on LinkedIn calls for someone with at least 15 years of experience in economic development, sales, real estate or a “related field.” Past efforts to bolster economic development haven’t succeeded, Van Meter said, and the ideal candidate will teach civic leaders and public officials how to do things differently and effectively promote the Springfield area.

“We haven’t done that for a half-century,” Van Meter said.

The chamber of commerce in 2007 created Quantum Growth Partnership, also called Q5, funded by tax dollars and private contributions that was aimed at creating 4,500 jobs in five years. That job creation effort fell short, and Q5 ultimately became involved with issues such as railroad relocation that had little to do with recruiting new businesses. Van Meter said such loss of focus won’t be tolerated on the new economic development corporation.

Van Meter said the new corporation should attract “primary employers,” not supermarkets and other retail establishments that don’t necessarily result in population growth and net increases in job numbers. Q5 morphed into an effort that sometimes took credit for retaining jobs, but Van Meter said the sole measure of success for the economic development corporation will be job growth.

Langfelder has expressed skepticism about the economic development corporation, and the city is retaining its own economic development department headed by Val Yazell, who will work under a $96,000 contract under the city’s annual budget adopted in February. Van Meter said that coordinating the efforts of the city with the efforts of the economic development corporation will be crucial.

Whether new employers establish themselves in Springfield or other towns isn’t as important as new employers locating somewhere in Sangamon County, Van Meter said. “Just get them here,” he said. For too long, Van Meter said, local governments haven’t worked together on economic development to the extent that they should.

“The days when this community had the luxury of turf wars are over,” Van Meter said. “Either we pull together or we’re going to sink together.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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